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Archive for August, 2012|Monthly archive page

7 Tricks to Success

In Organisation on August 9, 2012 at 9:06 pm

The trickiest hand of them all!

Overcoming inertia and actually getting active can be difficult. But there are lazy ways to get things done – you just need to trick yourself into doing it. When logic won’t work, you need to work beyond reason.

1. Remove choice from your path.

If you’ve burnt all your bridges then there’s nowhere to go but onwards, right? This happens a lot when people leave themselves with the night before to accomplish a task. We’re not going to do this. We’re trying to outwit our lazier instincts; not the other way round. If you’re trying to lose weight, remove temptation from your kitchen. If you’re swamped with files, create a system for dealing with it. Nature takes the path of least resistance.

2. Pretend there’s less.

I’m a big fan of Zen to Done. If you start off with the expectation that you’re only going to complete three tasks, then you’re a success whether you achieve that and nothing more, or if you power through a stack of papers the width of your desk. By pretending there’s less you remove the first hurdle to starting – by chopping the day’s work into pieces.

3. Create false deadlines.

Nothing makes me hurry like a deadline. The usual problem is that the deadline is the night before, and one night isn’t enough time. Try the habit of setting your personal deadlines for a few days before the actual deadline, so that the result isn’t a rushed mess. Realise, though, that you can edit the result before your actual deadline. Otherwise you’ll just end up with the same rushed mess, a few days earlier.

4. Tweak your alarm clock.

Set it a bit earlier, every day. Let the time you wake up creep a little earlier daily, until you’ve started to recover the morning for your own. A salute to those of you with iron wills who wake before six. Think of all the slow breakfasts, energising runs and beautiful sunrises you’re missing out on if you’re asleep.

5. Stay mindful.

I’ve known of people who snap an elastic band around their wrists when they have negative thoughts. It’s just a form of conditioning yourself. Staying mindful counteracts those stupid little things we do unconsciously. I can think of plenty of occasions. When you get home after work and switch on the TV without thinking… When your hand creeps into the bag of chocolate without your noticing… If you trick yourself into realising when you’re doing it you’ll be able to stop without using willpower. In the 4-hour body it’s illustrated how, just by consistently tracking your weight, you can unconsciously make the thousands of little decisions that result in losing weight. It’s when we’re in control of those little decisions that we can control the big changes.

6. Become accountable.

Does anybody want to play down the effect that people’s comments have upon us? Even those we’re just imagining? When we know that people are informed of our plans we become more likely to succeed. The factors depend on the person – for me it’s a mixture of fear and stubbornness – but it’s easy to understand. Even when nobody cares, we think they do, and that drives us.

7. Tell yourself a story.

More particularly, a different story. This approach is just adopted from cognitive behavioural therapy – when your own personal narrative is saying something negative, you slowly correct it. To trick yourself, tell yourself that things are different to how you’re perceiving them. If you’re dreading getting started on your manuscript, imagine you’re going to start it with the same enthusiasm that you’d have watching the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy (with deleted scenes, of course). Enthusiasm is all subjective and, ultimately, controllable.

So, next time you need to do something, try tricking yourself into it. Willpower is overrated.

Placebo Effect: A Sweet Pill to Swallow?

In Furtherment on August 3, 2012 at 5:48 pm

The role of perception and the brain in physical health is supreme. Evolutionary medicine states that pain, sickness and fever are all evolutionary responses for when the body needs to recover from injury or infection. Looking at it this way, it isn’t hard to believe that the brain can numb pain or reduce a fever if it believes that it should.

A placebo is some sort of ineffective medical treatment that is intended to deceive the patient and take advantage of this response. Patients given a placebo can show a remarkable improvement in condition, despite their lack of actual treatment. The usual treatment is a simple sugar pill, but it can extend to types of placebo surgery, where the patient is put under anaesthetic, left to wake up, and told that the operation was a success.

In fact, it’s theorised that a lot of the usefulness of standard medical treatment can be attributed to the placebo effect. So can we exploit it?

In Robert Wiseman’s ‘59 Seconds’ we learn that study participants who were reminded of the amount of exercise they took on a daily basis altered their beliefs about themselves and their bodies responded to these new beliefs in kind. The participants weren’t required to take part in any kind of fitness programme. In short, merely thinking about exercise and how healthy you are appears to have the capacity to make you healthier.

This experiment shows how powerful human belief can be and how we can harness it for ourselves. Thinking positive thoughts about your body can have positive physical effects upon it, but also vice versa. I don’t want to wander into the realms of the ‘Secret’. This is from a purely physiological and subconscious level. In a way, we’re moving away from the placebo effect, which is based in science, and drifting towards positive thinking and the gratitude attitude. Not that I’m knocking them; I have future posts planned on these phenomena too.

The placebo effect has been exploited in many different ways by people looking to get healthier. In Tim Ferris’ Four Hour Body, he describes how Phil Libin lost 28 pounds of weight in six months by only making one conscious change to his life style; he weighed himself every day. Phil theorised that the awareness of his weight subconsciously affected the thousands of miniscule decisions that he made each day, making him healthier because of it. The same subconscious effect has been exploited by people who choose to chew their food a set amount of times before swallowing it. Not only does this slow you down and make you conscious of the amount that you’re eating; it primes and improves the rest of your digestive process.

There are simple ways to apply these benefits to the exercise of your brainpower, too. Regular reinforcement of how clever you are, or anything else you want to improve, can have a physical effect if you believe it. The joys of neuroplasticity mean that there’s always room for growth. Dedication to some sort of mental training will have an even greater effect; there’s the mental growth from doing the exercises and the reinforcement effect of self-belief.

A good rule of thumb is this; if you want to get better, challenge yourself.

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